It’s very hard to do this without feeling vaguely like I’m rolling up a Dungeons & Dragons character. I know, my geek is showing. But here goes.
I don’t think I need to state further that the past has always fascinated me. I have spent literally half of my life learning about and sharing my knowledge of the past. It is, to me, of vital importance that we understand where we came from.
I have acquired these skills through both formal and informal means. I have completed a BA and an MA, both slanted towards History. I have also read, researched, and explored on my own initiative. Furthermore, as a curator and antiquarian, I place a huge emphasis on physical objects that are connected to the past.
Since I have made my living in the museums and heritage world, my knowledge of History has done me a great service. It is only very recently that I have begun to explore the potential non-academic applications to my historical knowlege. Time will tell.
This, I can fully admit, was a childhood fantasy that, somehow, I managed to pursue into my later years and even get paid for. My good friend Vinay Gupta is very fond of highlighting the hilarious fact that someone who had their beginnings as a ‘sword carnie’ managed to attain a curatorship at the Tower of London taking care of Henry VIII’s armour. And yes, this is pretty much what happened.
I began training in swordplay at 15. Given that, in the Middle Ages, this training would have begun between 12 and 14, I’m not too far off the mark for keeping up with squires from that period (minus, you know, horsemanship and actual combat experience). I was part of a stage combat troupe that did fight shows for the Renaissance Festival circuit around New England (for those not familiar with this peculiarly American phenomenon, imagine an historical re-enactment event combined with an element of interactive theatre and a slightly more… liberal approach to historical accuracy). Through this I slowly met up with people who were studying and practicing ‘Western Martial Arts’ through the use of the few surviving early European manuals of combat that have survived. This ultimately became my main area of research, and I am proud to be a recognised name amongst a very small number of individuals in the world engaging in this field.
It is more than just a martial art for me. It is, in the Eastern sense, a ‘Way’. I have applied swordplay and the study of arms/war into a greater philosophy, much as many previous strategists and masters-of-arms have done before me. It has taught me the importance of observation and appropriate reaction.
As I mentioned above, I started off as a performer. I have always loved to sing and have enjoyed being on stage and in front of an audience. I have been performing since I was about 5 and, although I don’t ‘tread the boards’ nowadays as often as I once did, it is something that has never fully left my life.
I have in recent years focussed primarily on folk music. If I do say so myself, I am quite good. One of the most empowering experiences for me is when, standing before a crowd and beginning a song, I slowly perceive the normal bustle begin to die away until, by the time I finish, you can literally hear a pin drop. That is how I know I have done well. That something like a song has the power to affect people that way is something that I find fascinating. Whatever it is, it is old and powerful. And, as you can imagine, such a knack has come in quite useful in a field where giving talks and tours is expected.
Although I am primarily considered a scholar nowadays, there is more than a little of the bard still in me.